Centrality of the Eucharist
By Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
God is asking us to stand strong in faith, and that faith must begin and be nourished in our worship, in our proper belief and respect for the Most Holy Eucharist and how we approach it and even organize our lives around it.
And organize our lives around it we must. To know what this looks like, we need to look no further than the patron saint of our own city and Archdiocese: St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is well known for his heroic humility and profound love for the poor and downtrodden, but few remember the reason he loved the forgotten and oppressed so much: because he saw in them the image of his Savior, Jesus Christ.
St. Francis loved the poor because he loved Jesus, and he saw in them the very ones to whom God had drawn closest and become most like. And so, for this same reason, St. Francis also loved the liturgy, the Mass and especially the Eucharist, since in the Most Blessed Sacrament the very one whom he served through the poor was actually present Himself. So great was Francis’ love of the Mass and the Eucharist that he would often reprimand clergy for not treating the King of Kings, present in the Mass and living in the Eucharist, with the utmost care and reverence. Just as he would take up the cause of the dirtiest, lowliest, most vile and repulsive of the poor with the utmost tenderness and care, so he was scandalized by the fact that often the Mass was celebrated with dirty altar linens and smudged cruets, and not with the greatest of dignity.
For the poor man of Assisi, love of lady poverty did not mean cheap quality of furnishings for Mass and disregard of details in rendering worship to the Almighty. Quite the contrary: only the best for God! And he, too, wrote poetically to describe the miracle of the Mass, such as this gem addressed to his disciples:
“Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold nothing back of yourselves for yourselves, that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”1
We are having a Eucharistic Revival because we need to reignite that true Franciscan spirit of piety, a piety not limited to one dimension or another of our faith, but true Eucharistic faith, a faith that recognizes both the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and, because of that, His presence in the poor whom He calls us to love with his Eucharistic heart. It is a faith especially exemplified by a contemporary saint, and one also close to our city and Archdiocese: St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She understood that if we fail in proper respect for what is most sacred – our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament – we will fail in all other ways. We will not serve the poor in an altruistic way, a way that truly recognizes their dignity, but rather in a self-serving way. This lack of the sense of the sacred also explains the attacks on the sanctity of human life we are experiencing in our own time in so many different ways. This is why Mother Teresa used to say that of all the sad things she had seen in the world, the worst was the irreverent reception of Holy Communion.
Like St. Francis, like Mother Teresa, like all great saints, this Eucharistic Revival must begin with ourselves. We must revive our own personal faith – not just with talk – but with doing! It is good for each of us, then, to examine our own attitudes and behavior toward this divine gift. Is our regard for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament indicative of true Catholic faith in the sacrament, in small ways as well as big?
For example, we must recall the importance of silence. Our culture bombards us with stimuli constantly, and people have become uncomfortable with silence. But silence is the only adequate human response to awareness of the presence of the sacred, and it is how God speaks to us most intimately in the depths of our heart. Perhaps now more than ever, it is important for us to create an atmosphere of reverent silence in church and to allow silence to speak eloquently at certain moments during the liturgical celebration, and also to observe prayerful silence before Mass begins and after it ends.
This dire need for true Eucharistic faith in both word and action is what will help us to reclaim our city of St. Francis, who served as a model of true love of God and the poor – a life of reverence for the sacred.
1 (LtrOrd 26-29) friarmusings.com/2013/03/22/francis-of-assisi-the-eucharist/